Yet another report surfaces in the Telegraph describing Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's domestic woes and loss of political support. There have been a rash of these stories in the past week or so. Do the reports mirror reality or are they some sort of disinformation meant to minimize the threat of Iran? Possibly a bit of both. But there does appear to be some genuine trouble in paradise for Mad Mahmoud.
Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005 promising to use oil money to cut the gap between rich and poor. If he has succeeded, it is only because both groups are now struggling to make ends meet.
Had he nailed the economics, his critics might have had more stomach for his political grandstanding and nuclear brinkmanship. Instead, while the Iranians are at the Americans' throats throughout the region, internal inflation and unemployment are running at 30 per cent and rents and property prices are 40 per cent higher than six months ago. Even former supporters are questioning whether turning the entire United Nations Security Council against Iran was a bright idea.
Last week, 150 parliamentarians — just over half of Iran's 290 MPs — took the extraordinary step of signing a letter blaming Ahmadinejad for the country's woes and accusing him of planning to squander the country's oil earnings, which account for about 80 per cent of its revenues, in next year's budget. "The government's efforts must be focused on decreasing spending and cutting its dependence on oil revenues," the MPs wrote.
It was a sure sign that what limited backing Ahmadinejad had from Iran's supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had evaporated. The hard-line conservative newspaper Jomhouri Islami, a reliable indicator of Khamenei's thinking, spelled it out. "Speak about the nuclear issue only during important national occasions, stop provoking aggressor powers like the United States and concentrate more on the daily needs of the people," it wrote.
The warning signs were already there. Last month, the former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, a wily opponent of the current incumbent, came out on top in elections to the council of experts, the body responsible for choosing Iran's supreme leader. And while Ahmadinejad's sister, Parvin, picked up a seat in local elections, other supporters of the president were routed, securing just 20 per cent of the votes. The elections were regarded as a referendum on the president's first 18 months in power.
Iranian economists say that Ahmadinejad's domestic problems stem from his devotion to the khodkafai economic model of Iranian self-sufficiency, rather than the alternative Chinese model — favoured by Rafsanjani — which embraces markets and international trade. "He believes the economy should be subservient to his political aims," said Amir Taheri, a prominent Iranian-born journalist and author. "He believes international trade is a bad thing because it will pollute our economy and culture."
Read the whole thing. It is rather long at three pages, but has some fascinating details. There is interesting criticism being published in Iranian media that heaps scorn on Ahmadinejad's choice of allies that is, I think, very important:
"Does he really think people like Chavez, Correa and Ortega can be Iran's strategic allies?" the reformist daily newspaper Etemad Melli demanded. "These left-wing friends are good for coffee shop discussions, but not to determine our security, or political and economic priorities."
That is some very, very interesting criticism. I think we really need to keep up the pressure at this point. Ahmadinejad has been writing checks with his mouth that Iran can't cash. When gasoline rationing hits, there will be real unrest.